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New Orleans after the Civil War

, 324 pages

6 halftones

May 2010



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New Orleans after the Civil War

Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom

We often think of Reconstruction as an unfinished revolution. Justin A. Nystrom’s original study of the aftermath of emancipation in New Orleans takes a different perspective, arguing that the politics of the era were less of a binary struggle over political supremacy and morality than they were about a quest for stability in a world rendered uncertain and unfamiliar by the collapse of slavery.

Commercially vibrant and racially unique before the Civil War, New Orleans after secession and following Appomattox provides an especially interesting case study in political and social adjustment. Taking a generational view and using longitudinal studies of some of the major political players of the era, New Orleans after the Civil War asks fundamentally new questions about life in the post–Civil War South: Who would emerge as leaders in the prostrate but economically ambitious city? How would whites who differed over secession come together over postwar policy? Where would the mixed-race middle class and newly freed slaves fit in the new order? Nystrom follows not only the period’s broad contours and occasional bloody conflicts but also the coalition building and the often surprising liaisons that formed to address these and related issues. His unusual approach breaks free from the worn stereotypes of Reconstruction to explore the uncertainty, self-doubt, and moral complexity that haunted Southerners after the war.

This probing look at a generation of New Orleanians and how they redefined a society shattered by the Civil War engages historical actors on their own terms and makes real the human dimension of life during this difficult period in American history.

Justin A. Nystrom is an assistant professor of history at Loyola University New Orleans and the co-director of the Center for the Study of New Orleans.

"A richly detailed, thought-provoking study of politics in postbellum New Orleans... Breaks new ground and will generate fresh thinking about Reconstruction in New Orleans and the nation."

"Nystrom takes the reader on the journey from slavery to freedom, emancipation to suffrage then back into a harsh period of disfranchisement by the end of the nineteenth century... He moves beyond previous revisionist studies on Reconstruction by examining indicators of change by way of those making the decisions."

"A fascinating and complex story that Nystrom's narrative incisively clarifies to a degree no work before has managed to accomplish."

"An excellent choice for any collection in U.S. history."

"Nystrom now adds nuance to these studies by providing a close biographical reading of several New Orleanians as they struggled with questions of secession, occupation, emancipation, racial equality, and political division."

"This is an important book for understanding postwar urban politics in the largest city in the South. It is deeply researched, splendidly written, and well contextualized within the larger historiography of Reconstruction."

"Nystrom does an excellent job of showing Reconstruction, at least in New Orleans, in a new light—as a longer process and a far more complex one in which both white Democrats and Republicans of all ethnic traditions seem less certain and more pragmatic than previous histories of the period would have it. New Orleans after the Civil War offers a very useful new perspective on a central event in American history."

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